Somerset paper's name-ban challenge rejected by court

A weekly paper in Somerset has failed in its bid to name a persistent young offender who killed a pensioner while driving a stolen car.

For staff at the Somerset County Gazette it was the first time they had applied to overturn an anonymity order and despite the disappointing outcome they say it was a useful learning experience.

The case involved a 13-year-old who drove a stolen car into the side of a vehicle driven by 74-year-old victim Kenneth Rookes.

News editor Tamsin Jones said: “We’d followed this case closely from when the man was killed in the car accident. We knew he was involved in a number of other offences and thought readers deserved to know a bit more about what was going on.

“Prior to the hearing we submitted a letter to court saying it was our intention to challenge the Section 49 Order.”

Jones and reporter Alex Cameron both attended Taunton Deane Youth Court last week and Jones was invited to address the court. She said: “I explained that under the 1997 Crime Sentences Act youth courts had the power to waive restrictions banning the identification of a young offender if they believed it was in the public interest.

“He was a persistent offender and the offence in which the pensioner was killed was a serious one.”

“We felt alerting the community would make the 13-year-old a known quantity in a way that would prevent reoffending.”

Magistrates considered her submission for 30 minutes but rejected it because of the defendant’s age and the effect naming him could have on other children in his family.

The boy was given a driving ban and a two-year supervision order as well as a 30-day curfew order.

Jones said: “It is the first time we have done this and we have learned a lot. Although they didn’t lift the ban we felt we had played our part.”

In a page-one comment piece, editor-in-chief Ken Bird said: “Why shouldn’t readers know who the joyrider is? He’s a persistent young offender who has not only devastated one family but also put hundreds of lives at risk during a police chase through Taunton.

“And why should the law, for which this schoolboy appears to have so little regard, protect him from being identified?”

YOUTH ANONYMITY

Section 49 of the 1933 Children and Young Persons Act bans the publication of any details which could identify an under-18 appearing in a youth court. These restrictions apply automatically.

For children appearing in adult courts, magistrates and judges normally impose an order under Section 39 of the 1933 Act banning their identification.

The Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 was due to make it an offence once police have started a criminal investigation to publish anything leading to the identification of any under-18s alleged to have committed a criminal offence.

But the relevant sections of this act have yet to come into force and no date has yet been set by the Home Office for them to do so.

By Dominic Ponsford

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